Stop heckling, start answering

From Question Period yesterday, Stephane Dion attempts to expand everyone’s mind on this matter of civility.

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear an answer to the question of the $127 million being cut in this budget compared to the previous budget. Can the minister answer the question? Common courtesy in this House also means getting answers. It is only natural for the opposition to protest if it does not get an answer. Can he give us an answer regarding the $127 million in cuts to aboriginal housing?

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan did not provide such an answer. And so it fell to government House leader Peter Van Loan to explain the Conservative side’s policy on ministerial explanation.

Well, I think we always answer the questions to the best of everybody’s ability at the time with the information they have on hand and I think that hopefully if the tone continues we’ll see more and more clarity. I think that in the House with the composition we have now, with the tone that’s being struck there is likely to be a greater focus on policy and debates, on ideas and I think that will carry through into Question Period. I think we’re already seeing that.




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Stop heckling, start answering

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a process by which Dion (and any other MP) can formally table a question that forces a department to provide a response to the house? 

    I’m not defending Van Loan’s useless non-answer, as it’s just empty rhetoric, but the opposition members could at least do their jobs by officially tabling requests for information.

    • There is such a thing called an “Order Paper Question.”  These are placed on the order paper and must be answered by the particular government department within a specified period.

      However, it would be nice if the government could actually answer a question during QP instead of obfuscating al the time.

      • Thanks, I couldn’t remember what they were called.  I know that they are quite helpful when you want a detailed question (or multiple questions) answered, especially with regard to a technical question that an MP wouldn’t have at their fingertips.

        And yes, it would be nice if a government would actually answer a question instead of pretending it wasn’t asked.  Can’t the speaker actually force someone to answer a question, like a judge in a trial?  If they can’t, they should.

      • Order Paper Question. Perfect.

        Harper loves to abuse Parliamentary tools and procedures without regard for convention. If Layton delivers civility and still gets stonewalled by the government, I say load up on Order Paper Questions and make them work to avoid answering.

    • I wonder if it would really help to have some of these questions tabled in a written form? [ as they are in the UK] A non answer in such a case would presumably be a good deal tougher to roll out without the speaker looking more moronic then they currently are; and it would help to cut down on the amount of gotcha questions – hopefully.

  2. I think that hopefully if the tone continues we’ll see more and more clarity.

    So, if the opposition behaves themselves then MAYBE the government will explain where the billions of dollars in cuts they’ve already booked are ACTUALLY GOING TO COME FROM???

    I suppose that’s progress.  I was beginning to think that the Tories would never even CONSIDER explaining where all of these phantom cuts are coming from, EVER.  This response at least has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere in the federal government is scrambling to come up with some justification for numbers they originally trotted out in their budget more than two months ago.  I now have some hope that my government might tell me what spending they’re cutting before I die.

    • Yes, if they’re very very good, and wash their hands before supper, and don’t answer back etc they might….in the fullness of time….get an answer.  Or not.

  3. APTN National News, June 7

    The Conservative government has cut $127 million from First Nations reserve housing since 2008, the Liberals charged in the House of Commons Tuesday ……. 

    “How can the minister defend that yesterday’s budget cuts funding to Aboriginal housing by $127 million below budget 2008, before the(Economic Action Plan),” said Bennett, referring to the government’s stimulus program. “Where is the concerted action?

    “Our government is building on its impressive record in major investments and unprecedented collaboration with Aboriginals to increase educational outcomes for First Nations children and to address priority areas such as water and waste water infrastructure,” said Duncan
    ————–

    This is outrageous. A bunch of white people talking about how wonderful Government of Canada is towards Natives and who seem more concerned with tone of debate rather than dire situation.

    Surely the Natives have had enough of our ‘concerted action’ or ‘impressive record in major investments’ towards them and maybe change in relationship between Natives and Government would be helpful.

    “While Canada routinely ranks in the top ten of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – a quality of life indicator based on income, education and life expectancy applying the same criteria to Canada’s aboriginal population reveals some striking figures. Registered Indians living on reserves are ranked approximately 68th, somewhere between Bosnia and Venezuela, while off-reserve Indians are ranked 36th.”

    • We started off making the most corrupt politician in charge of Indian Affairs, and while the level of corruption has presumably improved, the results have mysteriously remained about the same.

      BTW and totally unrelated, do you belong to a shooting club?

      • “We started off making the most corrupt politician in charge of Indian Affairs, and while the level of corruption has presumably improved, the results have mysteriously remained about the same.”

        What does this mean? Have no idea what you’re talking about. 

        “BTW and totally unrelated, do you belong to a shooting club?”

        No.

        • I’m simply referring to Mr. Jarvis’s (Samuel, not Mark) tenure as Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs (1837-1845).  He was a crook and even a murderer, although the murder took place in a duel and so he was acquited.  Back then and because of the unsavoury characters (at least this one but I gather others weren’t much better) it is to be expected that life on a reservation would have been less desirable than it should have been.  And so what is our excuse now?  I truly don’t believe our Ministers of Indian Affairs are corrupt these days but things haven’t improved that much, have they?

          P.S.–Thanks, must be two of you.

          • Have not read that quote before.

            Canadians have known for more than century that reservations were bad and yet we persist and I really don’t understand why. 

  4. Can’t he just stand up and say “No, I don’t have an answer for you right now. I will research the issue and present a proper answer to the Honourable Member’s question on Friday”

    Ya know, like, um, normal people would?

    • “Ya know, like, um, normal people would?”

      What is normal? I think many of us here could also say “No, I don’t have an answer for you right now… ” but where is fun in that. 

      PJ O’Rourke ~ Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.

      • I can’t give you an answer right now Tony. However, I will research the issue and get back to you on Friday.

    • Politicians have tried that in the past. Generally, they get raked over the coals with responses like, “is the Minister admitting that he/she doesn’t even know what’s happening in his/her own Department?!  When will the Prime Minister demand that this incompetent Minister resign immediately?!?!”

    • But Questions require Answers. 

      • Sez who? Certainly not the rules of the House of Commons. One cannot expect the Speaker to enforce a rule that does not exist.

        Here are the actual rules regarding Question Period, according to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons:

        37. (3) A Member who is not satisfied with the response to a question asked on any day at this stage, or a Member who has been told by the Speaker that the question is not urgent, may give notice that he or she intends to raise the subject-matter of the question on the adjournment of the House. The notice referred to herein, whether or not it is given orally during the oral question period provided pursuant to Standing Order 30(5), must be given in writing to the Speaker not later than one hour following that period the same day. Unless previously disposed of, the said notice shall be deemed withdrawn after the forty-fifth sitting day from the day of notice.

        38. (2)(a) No matter shall be debated during the thirty minutes herein provided, unless notice thereof has been given by a Member as provided in Standing Order 37(3) or 39(5)(b). No debate on any one matter raised during this period shall last for more than ten minutes.

        So, if a Member doesn’t like the answer they’re received from a minister, they have the opportunity to complain to the Speaker, who will allow them 10 minutes to debate the matter during Adjournment Proceedings.

        Now, maybe it’s reasonable to change the rules requiring Ministers to provide a “satisfactory” response DURING Question Period, similar to the requirement for answering Order Paper Questions. However, it is not within the Speaker’s authority to decree such a rule. It would require a motion from an MP, and a majority vote from the House of Commons.

        The opposition had over five years where they enjoyed control of a minority parliament. They could have moved that the rules be changed in such a way at any time, and they would have had the votes to get it passed.

        They chose not to do it.

        http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/StandingOrders/toc-e.htm

  5. I think there is a bigger issue, and I would love the opposition to ask about it.

    I heard this on a call in radio show, so the numbers could be wrong:

    8-9 billion/year into Indian Affairs. 60% never leaves the department. 40% goes to tribes? 3-5% gets to actual Indians. Now, I know there is ‘noise in the numbers’, but is it actually efficient? I would prefer that the opposition demand more efficiency, not just more spending.

    That only works out to about $7000 per person, but are they getting value for their dollar, or are we hurting them by doing it this way. They have over 3500 employees there. These are the issues the opposition should stand up for.

    Also, isn’t the budget a publicly available document? Shouldn’t the opposition be bale to find this information out? Do they already know the answer before they ask, and are only doing it to trip someone up? I am really curious about this. If so, that would be another reason why QP is a joke – no one takes it seriously.

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